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Originally published Friday, June 27, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Movie review

"Fugitive Pieces": a thoughtful, emotional — and haunting — ghost story

"To live with ghosts requires solitude," says Jakob Beer (Stephen Dillane), a writer and scholar haunted by his past. Jeremy Podeswa's thoughtful drama...

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 3 stars

"Fugitive Pieces," with Stephen Dillane, Rade Sherbedgia, Rosamund Pike, Ayelet Zurer, Robbie Kay, Ed Stoppard. Written and directed by Jeremy Podeswa, based on the novel by Anne Michaels. 105 minutes. Rated R for some sexuality. Uptown.

"To live with ghosts requires solitude," says Jakob Beer (Stephen Dillane), a writer and scholar haunted by his past. Jeremy Podeswa's thoughtful drama "Fugitive Pieces," based on Anne Michaels' acclaimed 1996 novel, explores the ghosts of a man's life. Weaving together past and present, it's a story of how history shapes the present, and of the never-fading shadows cast by memory.

Jakob (played as a child by Robbie Kay, who has a heartbreaking way of looking utterly lost) grew up, terribly and instantly, at the age of 9, when Nazis burst into his family's home in Poland, murdered his parents and abducted his beautiful sister, Bella. Hiding from the soldiers, as his parents had instructed him, Jakob escaped direct violence, but the damage done to his soul was no less devastating. He was found, hiding in the forest, by a kind Greek archaeologist (Rade Sherbedgia), who adopted him and eventually brought him to Canada. The lost child grew up surrounded by love and companionship, but his waking dreams were crowded with ghosts, especially that of Bella.

Podeswa, the Canadian writer and director of "The Five Senses" (he's also known for much TV work, including multiple episodes of "Six Feet Under," "Queer as Folk" and "Carnivale"), brings a quiet elegance to this emotionally charged story. Greg Middleton's cinematography is sharp yet dreamlike, with the chilly blue tint in the Poland scenes contrasting with an idyllic, romantic shot of adult Jakob and his girlfriend, Alex (Rosamund Pike), running through a storm in downtown Toronto, rain splashing off her sparkling-red shoes. And though the movie's language rarely approaches the novel's poetry (meeting Alex, we're told in the book, was for Jakob "like the gift of a beautiful bird on the windowsill"), the film's layered structure and gently shifting chronology create a lyricism of their own.

The film (and, to a lesser extent, the novel) loses some impact in its late scenes with the arrival of a too-idealized character we're not given the opportunity to understand. But "Fugitive Pieces" is an often lovely work, haunting its viewer long afterward with its quiet observations on what remains with us. "Each time a memory or a story slinks away," reflects Jakob, "it takes more of me with it."

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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